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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

Chapter Twenty
THE ART OF PAINTING

IT is not surprising that Su Tungpo's genius and high spirits should
have given birth to a new form of Chinese art, essentially,designed
to express the joy of the brush. The most important of Su Tungpo's
amusements was his "play with ink", for it was through this that his
great creative artistic impulse was given free play and left a permanent
influence on Chinese art. Su Tungpo not only originated his famous
"ink bamboos", that is, paintings of bamboo in ink; he first created the
name for a new style of Chinese painting, the style of "scholar paint-
ing" (shihjen hua). With the younger Mi Fei, he pioneered in wbff^
was to become the most characteristic and representative style of
Chinese painting. The southern school of painting, emphasising rapid
rhythmic strokes done in a unifying conception, had been founded,
it is true, as early as the eighth century, by Wu Taotse and Wang Wei
in sharp distinction from the northern school of Li Szeshun, with
their minute delineations, their golden tracings, their use of green and
crimson. It was, however, in the Sung dynasty that the impressionistic
"scholar painting" was firmly established. This school, with its em-
phasis on rhythmic vitality and a controlling subjective conception of
the artist, still contains some secrets of artistic principles and technical
that are of importance to modern artists.

We are therefore fortunate to be able to see, through the many art
criticisms preserved for us by Su Tungpo, Mi Fei, and Huang Ting-
chien, the origin of "scholar painting" in the life of Su Tungpo. The
scholars were poets, calligraphers, and painters at the same time. At
the outset it must be made clear that in China calligraphy and paint-
ing are one and the same art, the same in technique, in medium and
in spirit and principles of criticism. One cannot understand the origin
of the southern school of Chinese painting without understanding the
esthetic principles involved in Chinese calligraphy.* For the founders
of this school, of which Su Tungpo was one, were men nurtured i
the spirit of Chinese poetry, and trained in the mastery of the brush
and in all the principles of rhythm and composition in Chinese calli-
graphy itself. Calligraphy provides the technique and aesthetic principles

* As a connoisseur, Su Tungpo wrote one hundred and thirty-six notes or
comments on calligraphy, thirty-three on painting, thirty-six on ink, and
eighteen on the brush. Huang Tingchien, the poet, wrote over a hundred notes
on calligraphy that he had seen, an even greater number than the notes he
wrote on painting.